14 July 2012

A Crisis Averted in Closed Form

Hail Stones. Seriously?

The dazzling day of the Honeyhound
In meteorological annals can be found,
One of abject annoyance and mismirth.
Not hours since convincing
The honeybees propensing
Giant hail-stones assailed the earth.

Choice words were muttered, four letters in length,
As the Hound stood cursing from the kitchen sink,
Hissing like a snake on the tile.
Colorful new illegible combinations
Verbal barometric assassinations
Came bubbling up through pessimistic bile.

“Five years I've been waiting!” she finally croaked out.
“What the hashtag-asterick is this weather about?”
But her spouse and children were staring in awe.
Not at her, mind their manners,
But chunks of ice that were slammers
On the cars like huge icy paws.

The Honeyhound, she was wrong to despair,
For just a few blocks over there
Happy and Mister were preparing for battle.
Bike helmets and trash can lids
To defend from the sky their animal-kids
With the resolve of lovers unrattled.

Over the garden boxes they stooped
And ushered the hens into the coop.
They didn't need much persuasion.
The bees were entrusted, we confess,
To Grandpa Joe's woodworking best!
Gratitude for dove-tailed dedication.

When finally the barrage was ended,
The roof and the cars plenty dented,
Happy radioed in from the field.
"The hens are all sulking, the basil is grouchy
Lavender's bruised, the tomatoes are slouchy,
Those onions are already peeled.”

“Apis Mellifera?” the Honeyhound howled.
“What of them?”she impatiently growled.
And Happy made an off hand report,
“Oh, they made it, they're fine,
They all flew in on time,
By apparent, unseen consort.”

Four birds, countless blossoms and countless-ier bees,
All safe and un-sundered by nature's great sneeze
By the brainy, helmeted heads of our friends.
A note-worthy notion, in closed-form asserted
Community makes a crisis averted.
(Though just in time for others to begin...)

01 July 2012

The Convincing Day

Happy Miller , Jessica Fey and I drove to Clarkson Kentucky on an unseasonably warm April day. The drive was beautiful, and took me through an unexpected route of welcome nostalgia.

In the early ninties, my grand parents moved to Lebanon Junction, which was once a busy stop on the L&N railroad. My Granny would take me on grand adventures to the surrounding counties. We would go craw dad hunting, (which comprises of getting a little net and a bucket and standing around in a creek peering under rocks hoping you don't get your toes pinched by an angry decapod.) I was guided through our ancestral hollers and the cemetery where her infant brother was buried. Those drives from her home to the middle-of-nowhere history lessons always set an easy rhythm in my mind.

Many high ways in Kentucky look alike; cutting through verdant mountainsides or rolling fields of farm land. Only a few miles along a highway tucked between the trees brings my worried thoughts to a quiet, settled place.

Thank you, Granny.

Patches of rouge poppies had sprung up along 1-65 south, which sparked a game of poppy-spotting out of Happy, while Jessica was busy heaving sighs that I was only going ten miles over the speed limit. I'm lucky she was too hot to pull me from the driver's seat by my collar and take over. 

As soon as we arrived at Walter T. Kelly, Jessica busied herself taking pictures of practically every thing, while I eavesdropped on an entertaining conversation about how, if Earl don't like sittin' in my truck he don't get to sit in my truck. A very self conscious and freckly young farm boy kept glancing back at me while his father and uncle exchanged unpleasantires about Earl. 

The room was a curious marriage of kitchen, office space, and work room. Parallel to the line was this poster that Jessica made me pose in front of because she knows how much I love holding a smile indefinitely. The queen looks like she's laying an egg in my head. Draw your own conclusions. 

photo:Jessica Fey

The far end had desks and chairs, as well as a few white tables pushed up against one wall. Each table was covered in tiny wooden boxes. Jessica and Happy investigated while I waited to check in. 

Turns out those little boxes were about a hundred Queens and their attendants waiting to be picked up. 

photo: Happy Miller
My own queen would come in an identical box, except I would have to extract her from an almost impossible space.

We chose to walk the short distance to the warehouse where the bees were kept. Powdery gravel crunched under my impatient feet, driven by five years of longing.

A friendly woman in a checkered shirt was waiting for customers behind a table. The garage door to the building was open wide but only a sliver of sunlight reflected in the smooth concrete floor. 

Waiting in the shade were rows and rows of boxes full of tens and thousands of humming bees. 

I handed her my invoice, and she directed her assistant to the "J" row. He strolled into the shadows, and emerged holding a box firmly by the ends. He sat the box on the table in front of me and reminded me not to pick them up by the screen as they would sting me right through them holes. 

That was it. They were mine.... at least they were as much mine as a cluster of insects that pledge allegiance to an aromatic demi-goddess can belong to anyone. To say that I am responsible for them doesn't seem quite right either, since none of these creatures really need me for anything. 

photo: Jessica Fey
Honey bees, in their healthiest state, want for nothing. Ever practical, they will likely make use of the things I situate near them, such as water and the occasional jar of honey. We beekeepers can manipulate their living quarters to suit our intrusions and encapsulate their queen to get them to stay put, but they manage their own meals, procreation and hive pests much better than us (again, in their healthiest state.) I am quite sure that they have more to teach me than I have ways to help them. 

The package of bees vibrated as I gripped its sides and stepped out into the sunshine.


Aside from the birth of my children, this may be the most emotional I've been in a while. Jessica usually has to work to get a smile out of me, but I don't think I stopped smiling for at least an hour. 

Kelly was providing an opportunity to see the new state apiarist,  Sean Burgess, install a package in their apiary. Seeing as at the time I had only a theoretical knowledge of how to get the bees in the hive, I thought I would be useful. I don't know if it was, but through no fault of Mr. Burgess, I assure you. It's a standard, straight forward process. There wasn't anything he said that I hadn't read in a book or seen online. It could have been that I was holding a box of bees and watching my friends melt in the sun. It could have also been that I was very distracted by the urge to pelt the Amish family behind me with questions like "Why's your beard so fantastic?" "Can you teach me to make that dress?" "Is that an iPhone?" "Apron!"

We left before he was quite finished. 

photo: Jessica Fey
Typically the bees aren't quite so tornadic. He was installing these bees in the middle of an apiary with several active hives and all of the residents were trying to check out the new queen's digs. 

Happy held the bees on her lap during the drive home. Not preferring to accidentally chill the little darlings, we opted for the keeping the AC off and the windows down. 

Back at home, Robert was busy widening the holes on my feeder board to accommodate the big daddy jars of honey I was going to feed the bees. Most keepers scoff at feeding honey, but honestly I have to scoff right back at the idea of feeding sugar water or corn syrup. Bees eat honey; they can't digest either sugar or corn syrup very well. My goals are reestablishing a healthy honey bee population in Louisville, so I feed honey from a trusted, local source. Generic honey from the grocery (the mostly clear stuff) is a nutritional wasteland. The pollen as been filtered out, and the enzymes are long dead. I will address feeding in a future post. 

Now it was time to give the bees a rest. We decided to let them recover in the cool safety of the Happy study. Books and bees in the same room was a little bit of heaven for me and could have only been improved by an icy Honeyhound

As Happy and I were contemplating lunch, Jessica disappeared. I found her on the phone, talking her husband down off of a ledge. He had broken his tooth eating a hot dog at the lake. Seeing as no one wants to pussyfoot around the lake with a broken bicuspid, she left to get him before we installed the bees. 

We ate lunch while the time drew near to shake a bunch of confused stinging insects from a smaller box into a larger box. It was starting to sound a little crazy. Even though I had months to prepare for today, I found my self rushing around. I realize now that this was the coy disguise of senseless panic in the face of a dream about to come true. 

My Mom and my husband,Robert, arrived with the children as I fiddled around with my veil and hive tools. 

"Installation" isn't my favorite word to use here. When you bring a dog home,  you don't install him in his bed. Can you imagine, "Hey, babe, I'm going to go plug in the new kitten." The word seems disconnected from the fact that you are interacting with living things. 

Considering all I am doing is using their biological tendencies to try and get my way, I prefer to say that I am "convincing" the bees. So.

The Basic Steps to Honey Bee Convincing
1. Remove a few frames from the hive so the bees have somewhere to go when you pour them in.
2. Douse the bees with a generous spray of sugar water. Pry the lid off of the package, remove the queen and sugar syrup, discard the syrup.
3. Knock the package firmly on the ground and pour the tussled bees into the hive.
4. Replace all but one frame.
5. Remove the cork from the end, exposing the candy plug so the bees can free their queen. Suspend her in the void of the missing frame. 
6. Replace the feeder board, inner and outer covers. 
7. Devise a gangplank for the remaining bees to walk into the hive. 

How Honey Bee Convincing Went Down (photos Happy Miller)
1. Inspect your veil and the rest of your clothes. Notice how insufficient cotton feels at this moment. 
2. Swallow your self-doubt. It's useless.  
3. Douse the bees with a generous spray of sugar water. Hear their battle cry settle into a contented kumbaya. 
4. Put your sassy pants on and pry the lid off the box. Remove the queen and sugar syrup. 

Package on the landing board.

Removing the queen cage.

Removing the sugar syrup.
5. Hand the queen cage to Happy as though it were an egg filled with napalm. 

6. Drastically over think the effect knocking the bees asunder will have on them. Do it half heartedly. 
7. Shake the roughly half the intended bees into the hive. Marvel at your inefficiency. 
Something's... different...

8. Slowly replace all the frames except one. It's pretty easy because you didn't pour living creatures into a wooden box very well. Realize you're okay with that. 

9. Try to hang the queen cage between the frames and promptly drop her into the body of the hive, which is getting more full of bees as they orient themselves to her pheromones. Get heckled by your husband, then encouraged by Happy who is also busy solving your problem. 
10. Thank the stars for Happy. 
11. Slowly put your hand into the narrow space between the frames as if you were playing a sudden death round of "Operation."
12. Get her Highness situated. Moronically put the inside cover/feeder board on upside down , ensuring you will make a mess of things in about three days. Set up two jars of trusted honey, and the top box. Coax each bee out of the space before replacing the lid, because each lady counts.
13. Use a discarded chicken coop door propped from the package box to the landing board and stand amazed as the bees walk up the gangplank into their convincing new home. 
14. Wish you could do it again. 

We all come into this world wayfaring. For a lucky few, the call of their heart is early known. Others (most of us) paddle a windless sea through a pathless void well past our twenties. Only patience shows us that we've been moving on an invisible current. 

Everything is colored by encounters with Wild, Rouge Life these days. It overflows with surprises. It is love and love again. 

The Honeyhound. 

24 June 2012

A Post of Pedestrian Proportions

I have failed to deliver on my promises of an epic post chronicling the tale of actually putting the bees in the hive. There have been several false starts to the post, resulting in one half finished narrative.
I was wallowing my general lackadaisicalness and came up gasping with two self revelations.

One, I need to be much more patient when writing memoir than writing fiction or poetry. I have no problem anthropomorphizing a heroic spider, but revealing the depths of my own heart is much more exhausting.

Two, this whole experience has caused me to interact with God much more intimately that anticipated, which has caught me off guard and left me a little breathless. I have been reading lots of Rumi and Hafiz lately, which lends capital to this impression.

I'm going to leave you with a poem by each of them, as well as a vow to have something resembling an account of bee-installation by week's end on the condition that it might be terrible.

Here you are.

Love Dogs - Rumi

One night a man was crying,
            "Allah, Allah!"
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
         "So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?"
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
            "Why did you stop praising?"
“Because I've never heard anything back."
"This longing you express
is the return message."
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.

I Rain - Hafiz

I rain
Because your meadows call
For God.

I weave light into words so that
When your mind holds them

Your eyes will relinquish their sadness,
Turn bright, a little brighter, giving to us
The way a candle does
To the dark.

I have wrapped my laughter like a birthday gift
And left it beside your bed.

I have planted wisdom in my heart
Next to every signpost in the sky.

A wealthy man
Often becomes eccentric,

A divine crazed soul
Is transformed into infinite generosity

Tying sacks of gratuity
To the dangling feet of moons, planets, ecstatic
Midair dervishes, and singing birds.

I speak
Because every cell in your body
is reaching out
For God.

12 March 2012

Whoever's Calm and Sensible is Insane or Hive Tools

Guitarists have strings, and photographers have cameras. These are the basics required to do what they do. I have these:

Walter T. Kelley delivered a box to my house last Wednesday full of only the finest. 
This is a smoker. It is filled with organic fuel such as burlap or dried leaves. The smoke is wafted over the bees and they simmer down. No one is sure why, though there is one theory that says smoke is sort of nasty and no body wants to stick their face in it, especially if they can't blink.
These are frames. There are basically three types of frames, show here are deeps and shallows. There is a medium size also available. Popularly, there is a third component I will not be utilizing since I am going as down home and natural as possible with my approach. A wax "foundation" can be inserted to give the bees a head start on drawing the comb out.  I am using "foundationless" frames, which means that instead of a flat piece of prepressed wax hung on the frames where those dots are, there will be nothing. Instead, the bees will hang down from a wedge (not visible in this picture), along the under side of the top bar and start drawing the comb from scratch. They can make it to suit their needs.  
This is a hive tool. Imagine a very lady like crowbar, and you've pictured a hive tool. I hear it's useful for all sorts of things. Bees like to glue everything together, so it can be used for prying open the lid of the hive or squashing hive beetles. I hate hive beetles and will squash their weasely black guts out every chance I get. 
This is a bee brush, used for ever so gently brushing the ladies from the honey comb so I can look for signs that the queen is doing her job. This is indicated by a good number of brood at a variety of life stages. 
This is a close up of my hat and veil. I am opting out of the bee hazmat suit. I don't even have a good reason, except that it just didn't feel like it was for me.

Soon I hope to have pictures of my completed hive. 

Honey Stomach or Deception Most Foul

Fair reader, I must confess a treachery. I must confess my intent to commit a heinous act.

I will steal the honey. I will rob the queen blind like an unfaithful lady in waiting.

But not this year. This year I pamper her and hope they don't all die.

Mea Culpa.

I feel better! Now, let’s talk about how this honey is made, since it has been the topic of conversation among many of you and I want to set the record straight.

Honey isn’t bee barf, because that would be disgusting. Honey bees are not disgusting. They are fascinating, often savage, and fastidious, but not disgusting.

Females have a normal stomach, with which they digest honey and pollen. They also have a “honey stomach” that is used to store the nectar they gather from flowers as they gather and distribute pollen. The nectar is then removed from the bee that foraged it by another bee from inside the hive. She will work this over for a while in her sweet little cheeks, imbibing it with enzymes and proteins. This nectar-bee goodness mixture has too much water at this stage to successfully retard bacteria growth, so after the ladies deposit it into the iconic hexagonical cells, they join together and fan their wings until the moisture content is reduced to around to between 12% -14%. This gives honey a shelf life of a few thousand years.  

If you still think that it's gross, then you don't like awesome things. I can't help you be more awesome. Look how sad you've made Rumi:

01 March 2012

List of Characters

The nature of my endeavor requires that I provide you with a glossary of characters and references. Apiarist terminology will be taught as we go, since those sorts of things make much more sense in context. Enjoy. 

The Happys - Happy and Mr. Happy proper, so named by my three year old. The owners of the back yard in which the hive resides. Solid friends and all around joys.
The Eagle and Child - the name I have given my hive. So named for the pub in which the Inklings met. 
Grandpa Joe - My husband's paternal grandfather and mastermind carpenter behind the construction of the hive. In lieu of a photograph, I have an image that accurately reflects how I feel about the fact that he is pretty confident that it's "...just as easy to build you one beehive as two or three or four." He looks nothing like this. He has very little hair and is usually smiling. 
The Original Honeyhounds - Geddy Lee (Yes, Rush fans, that Geddy Lee) and L.B. Geddy is a Doberman mix and L.B. is a pit bull mix. 

Geddy Lee 
When I add new characters, I will amend this glossary and notify you, faithful reader.  The next post with be concerning how bees make honey because there have been several folks accusing me of making the honey. I don't make the honey. I steal the honey in a strategic manner. I will also include a list of plants native to Louisville that you can encourage or plant to give the ladies some help.

25 February 2012

On Why Being a Drone Totally Sucks

To understand why being a drone totally sucks, you need a little context. Every bee you see visiting a flower is female. Every bee that makes honey is female. Every bee that guards the hive is female. Every nurse bee is female. Every bee that builds wax is female. The Queen is female. You see? Any work that's done in the hive is done by the ladies. (Keep your comparisons to human society to yourself, I know some very hard working men.)

Drones are the only male bees in the hive, and aside from the fact that they might get the chance to mate one day, they are a drain on resources and general lay-abouts.

Honey comb cells are made in different sizes depending on what it is to be used for. Drones require larger cells to grow, and their egg-to-flying stage takes longer than for a worker bee. A worker bee is ready to get to work in 21 days. A drone bee is ready to loaf around in about 24 days.
This chart shows the daily development cycle of all three castes, from egg to adult.
From Dummies.com
Probably the part of being a drone that sucks the  most comes in fall. Honey Bees, in general, are noble and self-sacrificing. When a worker bee is ill or no longer able to contribute, she will quietly go die. Drones are expected to do this. There is no sense in allowing them to over winter, since they will glut on honey that, without a nectar flow, is not being replenished. Thus the guard bees will encourage them to fall on their swords. Should they be unwilling to take the nobler path, their wings and legs will be chewed off and they will be unceremoniously hurled from the edge of the hive. Because honey bees are industriously savage.

Of course, there is mating, right? Nothing inspires a lazy beast like a little action. Let's talk about bee-sex.

The Queen mates once her entire life, then stores the acquired genetic material (bee sperm) for the rest of her days. It is appropriately called a "virgin flight." This flight is why drone bees have such large eyes compared to their sisters; they have to see a lone Queen. Two hundred feet in the air. 

So, hooray! You see a queen! She's not your mom! Go get her, right? Yes, for the propagation of your species, please do. Unfortunately for drones, their mating apparatus is torn from their bodies during the mating process. They then fall to their deaths, albeit with a smile on their proboscis. 

In summary: You have no real skills. Your sisters only take care of you as long as you're needed, then you are brutally dispatched. You may, or may not, get to mate. If you don't... crap! You didn't get to? You're going to have your legs chewed off! You got to? You're torn to bits and smote upon the earth!

Like I said, being a drone totally sucks.